This is an incomplete response to Crackpot’s “Comment” to my posting entitled:
“Tripoli, Libya: What’s not Discussed in the Media; Augmented: Looting.”
The essay was posted August 26 2011.
Here in italics is the Comment itself:
Dr. J, you are starting to sound more and more like a pretentious Leftist who is too proud to admit he has been wrong. Here is what you said on neoconservatives and Saddam Hussein:
“I am a libertarian who prefers military intervention to destroy Hussein, Stalin, Hitler, to ideological purity.
Neo-cons were not impelled only or mostly by a desire to install democracy in the Arab world. If they had been, they would have chosen an easier nut to crack than Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Tunisia comes to mind. They wanted to repair the mistakes of the first Gulf War when a chance to rid the world and Iraqis of a bloody monster was squandered.”
This sounds an awful lot like you are saying that Bush only invaded Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power. I look forward to the amusing way in which you will try to wiggle out of this. You are an intelligent man, so I am sure it will be good. Incompetence on this point is out of the question, though I think a lack of attention does indeed play a part in it. In fact, I think that lack of attention on the part of the neoconservative movement in general with regards to foreign policy plays a big part in our current quagmires in the Muslim world.
Speaking of a lack of attention (I hope your more intelligent readers are not as inattentive as you have been on the subject of foreign policy), the libertarian case for neutrality and commerce abroad does NOT stem from “ideological purity”. Rather, it stems from the readily-verifiable fact that our interventions abroad have created more monsters and more problems for the world than would otherwise have occurred. Again, I ask you how Saddam Hussein came to power, and how he acquired chemical and biological weapons to butcher his own people with. It also stems from the age-old wisdom of knowing that war abroad limits freedom at home.
The United States did not install or embolden Hitler or Stalin. It has, however, installed and emboldened plenty of dictators since the end of World War 2. I am willing to grant a number of concessions on this point. The Soviet Union was a murderous and imperialistic megastate bent on world domination. Socialism would have impoverished the last quarter of the globe that the United States had influence over if we had not made a stand with a powerful military.
With that being said, the Soviet Union collapsed under its own murderous weight two decades ago.
I beseech both you and your readers to consider the following: is the libertarian Right really akin to the soft-hearted Leftists (and Stalinist apologists) of the 30’s and 40’s (you were what, in your forties then?) when it advocates a foreign policy of neutrality and commerce, or is it more akin – like our economic and civil prescriptions – to tough love?
Just think about it for a minute: the neoconservative narrative on foreign policy calls for the U.S. to wage war on genocidal dictators (most of whom we have inadvertently or otherwise created) in the name of liberating – nay saving! – oppressed peoples everywhere. Does this not sound like the socialists of the 30’s and 40’s calling for drastic and extreme measures to save their societies from imminent exploitation and destruction? Think about how both camps view the Rule of Law in this regard.
On the other side of the argument, you have calls for peoples to fight their own fights, if need be. Not because of a perceived barbarity on their part, but due to the respect for a stranger that one should have simply on the merits of being a man alone. What is so ideologically pure about letting people fight for their own freedom? About respecting the decisions that they come to? And about setting a good example to those who yearn for a free and prosperous society? That sounds like tough love to me, and it would also avoid taking a side that may end up being far worse than the oppressive force overthrown in the first place.
Here starts my own essay:
We are dealing with important issues, to my mind, with the reason why the Libertarian Party never gets any political traction although many Americans and more and more Americans share most of its views of the world. I refer to the desire for much smaller government. The Libertarian Party can only get one person elected to Congress and this, under a false label. I vote for Libertarian candidates myself, but only for offices whose functions I don’t understand well such as California “Secretary of State.” I am not even adept enough with decimals to describe the percentage of the votes the Libertarian Party draws in Presidential elections. This is strange because, I repeat, the number of libertarians in this country seems to be high and growing. I mean: “libertarians” with a small “l.”
The reason I am referring to why libertarians don’t enroll en masse into the Libertarian Party is the latter’s military isolationism. Although it may have different theoretical foundations, it’s hard to distinguish in practice the Libertarian Party’s military stance from naïve pacifism. It also resembles closely lack of patriotism although Libertarians will proclaim loudly that no one loves this country more than they and suggest that others love it from a perspective lacking true understanding. Incidentally, I don’t know if Crackpot is a Libertarian Party member. It does not matter much whether he is or not past this acknowledgment because his words resemble closely the party line propounded by such Libertarian (capital “L”) as the Independent Institute and its President and founder, David Theroux. Incidentally, those are an organization and a person I like and respect in every other way. It just seems to me that they take leave of their senses when they speak of national defense. I even had David Theroux tell me once on Facebook that the solution to threats from abroad as presented by Al Qaida was for this country to issue lettres de marque. (Go ahead, Google it, those of you who stayed in high-school instead of dropping out like Bill Gates.)
In the “Comment” of reference, Crackpot makes strange statements regarding what I said about the reasons for invading and liberating Iraq. I put my response to these strange statements at the end of this essay because it’s not directly related to our main dispute. At the same time, it’s important because explanations of the war in Iraq have become a litmus test of political tribal membership and, at the edges, a test of political rationality. (When I had a radio program, I knew to turn off whenever someone made a noise to the effect that the federal government, or Pres. Bush, or the CIA, were “behind it.”)
Incidentally, Crackpot, no “wiggling” needed for me to deal with this as you affirm devilishly. It’s straightforward.
So, why the Bush administration invaded Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is Part 3 of this essay. Part 1 is the response to Crackpot’s assertion that American military interventions usually make things worse. Part 2 is the core of this essay. It explains why libertarians (small “l’) would be wrong to make a doctrine of military isolationism. Note that this whole essay is addressed to people to whom I am close politically. It does not talk toliberal girlie men or to progressive scum.
American military interventions make things worse.
Crackshot affirms: “…our interventions abroad have created more monsters and more problems for the world than would otherwise have occurred.”
It’s wonderful to possess such clear vision and such certitude about reality. I am at a disadvantage right there in arguing with Crackpot because I am not nearly as sure of anything as he sounds. Wars always involves gambling. That’s one reasons you should not start them, as a rule. As I shall try to show, responding to armed attack involves much less gambling. And, of course, I am not personally neutral on the topic of American militarism in general. There is a good chance I would have died or grown up an orphan had the US not invaded France militarily in 1944, thus stopping the Nazis from starving the French as they had starved the Poles and much of the Soviet Union.
Of recent wars in which the US took part, it seems to me that the intervention in Vietnam was counterproductive and may have made the Communist regime there even more repressive than it would have been otherwise. Before that, American military intervention in Korea was morally commendable, principled, legal, and brave. It was successful although the US had stupidly disarmed immediately upon the victory in WWII. If you don’t believe it was a successful war, ask for a tourist visa for North Korea. I hope you get one. Tell me if I can help.
The Cuban missile crisis was not a war. It was a military threat that averted sure war, likely devastating war on the US mainland. Half-baked American pressure on Cuba after the missile crisis, on Communist Nicaragua, and elsewhere in Latin American , including the somewhat farcical invasion of Panama, was every time the lesser of several concrete, easy to imagine evils.
Of the two attacks on Fascist Serbia, one, to relieve Bosnian civilians took place too late; the other to save Kosovo civilians was fine. Both were successes in every way, sparing the lives of thousands and eventually causing the fall of a mad dog dictator. I too am sorry that the sick Islamic world does not give the US much credit for saving tens of thousands of Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo but we did not do it for gratefulness.
The current “lite” intervention in Libya should find some grace in Crackpot’s eyes. It cost something, of course but others are doing all of the dying and in the process, we got rid of someone who killed Americans and got away with it. Yet, something tells me he, Crackpot, disagrees with this one too. Thus the resemblance with unconditional pacifists.
Incidentally,it seems to me that the humane obligation to help, even with military means, does not appear in the Libertarian agenda. From that simple humane standpoint, I learned a lot about what happens when the US does not intervene. The Cambodian and Rwanda genocide come to mind and also the on-going campaign of rape and massacre in Darfur. But since Crackpot seems to have decided to ignore moral considerations and notions of humanity, I will try to speak the language of real politik. If I am wrong about moral considerations, please, Crackpot, correct me and we will take it from there.
I imagine that the current American-led NATO and other allies military operations in Afghanistan represents well what separates us, Crackpot and me. First, it’s costly. I think it’s cost me personally almost $170 per year. That’s almost as much as one tenth of what I used to spend annually on cigarettes. More importantly, Americans have died there without much tangible progress being registered. I am ashamed to report that there even is serious talk of reconciliation with the same Taliban that sheltered Bin Laden and shot women in the head at half-time of soccer games. The American death toll there, of all causes, is about 1800 in ten years. It’s thus about 18 times fewer than die meaninglessly on American roads in a single year, incidentally. I know it sounds callous but facts matter and also orders of magnitude.
One gets the feeling that America and its allies just don’t know how to fight an Afghan war, or not much better than others before them. It’s possible to imagine that not a single Afghan is really appreciative of our sacrifices because Afghans are the kind of people who would rather have their throats cut by another Afghan that accept a cup of tea from an outsider. And there is considerable though unknown collateral damage on the Afghan civilian population. Well, there was also a great deal of collateral damage in France in 1944 because of American military action. (It included the destruction of the beautiful 17th century walled city of Saint-Malo which sheltered eighteen German soldiers, including secretaries.) What we know is that if the Taliban get back into power, they will again prevent little girls from attending school and forbid music. That’s in addition to offering succor to more violent jihadists: Why should they abstain if they feel that they got the better of us in a ten-year confrontation?
The most important contribution of the US in my lifetime was, of course, its military watch over western Europe, lasting forty years and capable of turning into a large, hot conventional war or a nuclear war at any time. Although, I am less sure of most things than Crackpot, it seems self-evident to me that this country’s armed stance during the Cold War, its ability to maintain large numbers of men under arms, its big expenditures on advanced weapons system, its large military budget (about 4% of GDP), allowed, made possible a Pax Americana lasting sixty years. That period saw the greatest historical rise in the ability of large numbers to live lives of dignity. We need not speculate much on what the alternative to Pax Americana might have been. It would have been slavery under various forms of fascism, or it would have been a life of misery for all under the other form of totalitarianism I need not name because it’s on everyone’s tongue.
A Defense Establishment, War and the Shrinking of Government
I might understand why Crackpot does not see the obvious. Does he think, I ask, that there would have been no Nazism and no Communism absent a powerful and willing military? Or does he believe that if this country had not given offense by arming itself to the teeth, the Nazis, or the Communists, or both, who have simply held amiable conversations with us and decided on fair measures to fill the gap separating us? Hitler, would not have been tempted by the fact that our army ranked famously in numbers behind Romania’s, I wonder? And Stalin, who asked how many divisions the Pope could line up. would have seen reason and stayed home, right?
And by the way, do Libertarians believe that there is no threat out there that is not of our own making? Does not Crackpot and his blind fellow-travelers believe that assorted hoodlums and crazed fanatics are watching our steps, noting every stumble? Of course, he and they know all the above well enough. They work hard at keeping their blinders on because the truth is too awful to behold.
Yet, I sometimes have a feeling, a feeling only, that my reasoning seems naïve to sophisticates like Crackpot, as it does to sophisticates of the Left. I sense that they think there is somewhere a more refined, better informed analysis of the effects of militarism and war for which mine is but a crude substitute. Fortunately, after thirty years I academia, my bullshit detector is both powerful and exquisitely refined:
I suspect I know why Crackpot and Libertarians don’t wish to accept the obvious. It’s because of the consequences they think this would have on their direst political wishes. Here it is; you heard it from me.
Libertarians and libertarians (small “l”) want less government, especially less of the federal government. They want to shrink government. That’s what I want also. Ideally they hope for a future with nearly no government.
Well, all of history shows, and shows with numbers, that war and the preparation for war invariably increase the importance and power of government vis-à-vis civil society. That is always true at least unless the arming nation loses the war, as did Germany and Japan in World War II.
With this correct view of historical reality, admitting also the reality of military threats from foreign sources is too awful. If we pretend it’s not there, it’s not, say Libertarians. And if we pretend the threats are all our fault, it’s almost as good because we can extinguish the threats in short order through our own behavior. Instead of going to war with the certainty of casualties and of an expansion of government and with the uncertainty of the outcome, we only have to persuade our fellow citizens to stay put and quiet. We know from election results how well Libertarians have accomplished this peaceful objective.
The truth of the statement regarding the incompatibility of war and of its preparation with the dwindling away of government is inescapable, I think. It does not mean that adults should avert their eyes from the other truth that there are many threats to our national existence and to our lives.
Presently, there are those who hate us, who would like to kill us, who killed us, for what we are, not for anything we did. They want to kill us, among other reasons, because they think their religion tells them they must and also because your teen-age niece exhibits her belly-button. It’s all mixed up I their minds. And then there are those who don’t mind risking war with us because they want to be us. It used to be the Soviet Union; now, it’s Communist China. It never stops. There is no reason to believe it will ever stop. Our best bet is an unfailing and constant demonstration of overwhelmingly superior force accompanied by steely resolve. And yes, I repeat it, maintaining such superior force and keeping our resolve will affects adversely the accomplishment of a libertarian program (small “l”). Yet, it’s worth doing. Here is why:
I can think of only two scenarios for achieving progress toward the libertarian ideal of much smaller government. The first scenario, we can observe (prudently) from afar. It’s the Somalian scenario. Internal strife reaches a point where the main organs of the state dissolve and the sovereign state is replaced by warring gangs. Civil society does not seem to fare well under this scenario. There are large famines and piracy -which is sure eventually to attract a storm of steel and destruction – becomes a primary source of livelihood. I am sure my mild and civilized Libertarian friends are not looking to ward the Somalian scenario to achieve their objective.
The second scenario is the progressive winning over of voters in a constitutionally run society, such as this one, to a program of lesser government. Once a first phase of lighter government proves itself, a further shrinking of the sate by political means will be envisaged and, etc.
I don’t see a libertarian polity developing in an economically backward or otherwise weak society. I fear that Libertarians think of constitutional democracies has immortal and decreed by God instead of the small accident of history they are. So, they underestimate greatly this obvious fact: Everything that menaces the existence of constitutional democracies a fortiori undermines progress toward minimal government. Likewise, everything that makes the populace feel threatened-such as the 9/11 mass murder – must retard our progress toward the libertarian utopia. Every act of saber-rattling motion by a large and economically growing power such as China will cause the same populace to act timidly. Even saber rattling by piss-ant nations such as North Korea will achieve almost the same result if we don’t think that we possess superior force. To advance, we must feel and look practically invulnerable. I don’t see the alternative but I am paying attention.
I keep hoping Finland will show us the way as I keep hoping the Finns will take over from us the task of making the world safe. I am sure the Finns would do a better job than we. Unfortunately, the Finns keep not volunteering!
Why the Bush Administration Invaded Iraq (One More Time!)
The Bush administration thought Saddam Hussein ( “SH” ) had weapons of mass destruction including poison gas, such as he undeniably had used on Kurdish villagers in the past. It also believed it had biological war agents and that it had made unknown progress toward completing nuclear weapons. The French and the Russians, who refused to go along with the US action, believed the same things. There are reasons to think that SH’s generals, or some of them, believed the same. It was difficult, it is difficult, to understand why SH would have thrown out the UN inspectors if he did not possess such weapons. It turns out there probably were no such weapons You had to be able to think like a SH massively divorced from reality to believe simultaneously that there were no such weapons and that the UN inspectors needed to be ejected. The preponderance of decision-makers in the Bush administration were unable to think that way.
There is no doubt in my mind that G.W. Bush and his political entourage also had a program in mind that went beyond destroying SH’s sanguinary regime. I think they wanted to make an example, a virtuous example. Specifically, they wished to demonstrate that “democracy” could take root just about anywhere. I don’t wish to have a schoolish discussion about the meaning of the word. Roughly, we can agree on the following: government that is representative through real elections, peaceful alternance in power, an independent judiciary, freedom of the press. I mean no more. You can mean what you want but that’s all I am talking about.
The Bush administration couldn’t very well start a war with any tin-pot tyrant out of nowhere just to make this demonstration. They thought they had to make do with what they had. SH offered himself with thousands of violations of the cease-fire he had signed in 1992. Also, Bush had the weakness to think that some sort of UN mandate would give the endeavor legitimacy, as if the UN were some sort of world government or possessed any sort of moral authority. (It’s hard to forgive Bush for this.) He had such a mandate from day one. He got it renewed right before the invasion.
Crackshot asks where SH got his weapons of mass destruction in the first place. The answer is: A little bit everywhere including in this country. The US helped him against Iran in the 1980s for the same reason, the US sent Stalin thousands of tons of war matériel to use against Hitler. Having one monster help destroy the other is a commendable practice.
Lost in the shuffle, absent from Crackshot’s tirades and strikingly absent from most contemporary discussions in the mass media is that G. W. Bush won the war and accomplished all his objectives. It would be easy to convince me that the cost was too high, that it could have been handled better, etc. Same for the occupation of Japan, same for Korea, same for Italy, same for Germany, and for a long time. In fact, today, Iraq has representative institutions. Iraqis vote in larger proportions than do Americans even when they risk their lives to do so. No observer has alleged that Iraqi elections were less honest than, say, Chicago elections. There has been a peaceful transfer of power at the national level. I tell myself that if the Iraqi judiciary lacked independence, the story would be on NPR twice a week and in the New York Times every day. It’s not. I do know that the guy who threw a shoe at visiting G.W. Bush was not dragged outside and beaten to death. He received a light sentence, just as you would expect. And, there is no question that Iraq has a free press. So: “Mission Accomplished!” That’s just for the record. I would say that the Iraqi Republic less than nine years later, and in spite of is failure to establish perfect domestic security, looks better than the French Republic did in 1798.
This little development does not address all the issues of whether it is desirable for the US to become militarily involved in another country, of course. It’s a start for a discussion between libertarians.